To: Gabriel Gomez
Re: The mission ahead
This has been a boffo week for you, but things are about to get more difficult. Bad advice will abound — and some of it may well come from your own camp.
To be or not to be Scott Brown, that is the question. And the answer should be clear. ’Tis best not to be him.
Brown succeeded in a little-watched, holiday-season campaign by riding his opposition to Obamacare to victory over a rival who thought she had the race locked up. But once public attention focused on him, Brown proved himself thoroughly underwhelming, losing a seat he could have held.
So how should you be different?
For starters, don’t duck and cover. Brown made himself look like a lightweight by dodging questions, and, in some instances, actually scurrying away from the press. That left the distinct impression that he wasn’t informed enough to answer basic queries.
So far, I’m reasonably impressed. You’ve done a postelection interview with Chuck Todd on “The Daily Rundown” and with Channel 5’s Janet Wu and Ed Harding for “OTR,” their Sunday show. Here’s my worry, though: You’ve got members of Brown’s and Mitt Romney’s teams in tight with you, and if past is prologue, they’ll try to minimize your interaction with real, issue-oriented reporters in favor of conservative talk-radio types. Go that route and you’ll look like a micromanaged candidate, one who is unsure of himself, unable to handle tough questions, and trying to fake his way through.
Rather than Brown or Romney, your GOP models should be Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Jane Swift. Even in tough times, they didn’t duck reporters. They stood and took tough questions — and people respected them for it. Yes, that will mean some mistakes and some misstatements in an inexperienced candidate, but if you make them, admit them and move on. Better that than seeming scared of your own shadow, as Brown often did.
That was hardly Brown’s only mistake. He never seemed to grasp this elementary reality: To succeed in a race for federal office, a Massachusetts Republican needs real, demonstrable separation from the conservative national party. One eye-catching step you could take would be to declare that you won’t be joining Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reflexive filibusters. Promise that, instead, you’ll regularly vote for a process that allows issues to be decided by majority vote. Pledge that on those infrequent occasions when you do join a filibuster, it won’t be a virtual filibuster, but rather a stand-and-palaver affair like the one Rand Paul recently led.
If you really are a different kind of Republican, you’ll need to demonstrate that on the issues as well. So take some high-profile positions that reflect Massachusetts values, not those of the national GOP. You made an important step in that direction during your primary campaign, with your support of gay marriage. That forthright stand stood in refreshing contrast to Republican rival Michael Sullivan’s labored attempt to have things both ways.
But you need a larger portfolio of issues to establish yourself as real moderate. So far, on the deficit anyway, you’ve sounded more like a crypto-conservative. You’re a Harvard Business School grad and a businessman. Give us some outside-the-box thinking there, something that moves beyond platitudes and shows a reasonable, centrist approach.
Finally, don’t adopt the usual campaign tone. Change it. Be a witty and genial gentleman. Brown undercut his reputation as a nice guy by his supercilious treatment of his opponent. You’ll blur your I’m-not-a-pol narrative if you and your team traffic in the usual teeth-achingly tedious campaign tropes.
Here, your campaign has already started down the wrong road, labeling your opponent “mudslinging Markey” and charging him with “the height of hypocrisy” for pushing you on the so-called people’s pledge. That leans into a witlessness you’d do better to avoid. Instead, bring some humor to the race. A witty riposte is a far more effective tactic than yet another tired attack.
Now, to adopt this advice, you’ll have to be confident, creative, and nimble enough to try something different, to take some risks. But surely that’s not too much to expect from a former Navy SEAL. Is it?